Stories from My Days in Robes – Part One, Continued

In the previous post in this series, I discussed how even in the austere and quite sincere environment of the forest monastery, I observed the mind’s constructions related to the maroon robes that were given to me during my time as a monastic. This second story is more somber, and as I write it now, the fragility of this life, and our need for each other’s support, comes alive.

I had landed in Colombo at 10pm on Friday. I was ordained the very next day. The following day, Sunday, this newly minted Revata accompanied Venerables Kalyanatisa and Anuruddha to a home about two miles from the meditation center. The car pulled into the yard, drove towards the rear and through a crowd of people who were mostly wearing white. We got out of the car and walked through a reverently parting crowd and into the modest home. There, in the sitting room, was the bluish, dark-skinned corpse of a 22-year-old man.

This only son had died after a bout with brain cancer. The father greeted us and cried as he related, in Sinhala, his story, his feelings. My eyes were drawn to the mother. Still young, at least by my standards, I saw in her face the numbness of grief. It was, and had been, far too much to absorb. I felt throughout my body, and knew with the mind, that she had withdrawn from the world.

Yet the world surrounded her. Her sisters and brothers, her cousins and parents, her neighbors. And now, these three monks. But even these robed men who had dedicated their lives to the Dhamma, what could they know of this grief?

But I could know something of her grief. I have lost an infant daughter and nearly lost a son at about this young man’s age, also to cancer. So while I could not meet the mother and father as one seasoned by years in robes, I could meet them as one seasoned by life’s actualities as a parent. And I was also present as one in robes, as a symbol of compassion and care. But would they see the single tear that rolled out from my right eye? Was I not the emblem of equanimity, a rock for them in the storm of grief?

It was not a problem. No one noticed this father/monk’s response. And when the boy’s father actually finished with the senior monk, and stood in front of me, I was resting in steady compassion: composed, but fully heartful. The father and I shared a moment, wordlessly, and a short while later, I left with my robed companions. The meaning of Sangha, to me and to the religious Buddhists in their grief, rolled away with me in that car.

All this, and I had only been in robes for three days. Maybe I can share more stories with you in the future. I hope so. Every day was rich with Dhamma, fostered by the outer circumstances or the inner. May the gifts of our practice serve well all who suffer.

Yours in the Dhamma,
Gregory, formerly Venerable Revata


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Greg, headshotGregory Kramer

Gregory Kramer is the Founder and Guiding Teacher of Metta Programs and has been teaching Insight Meditation since 1980.  He developed the practice of Insight Dialogue and has been teaching it since 1995, offering retreats in North America, Asia, Europe, and Australia.  He has studied with esteemed teachers, including Anagarika Dhammadina, Ven. Ananda Maitreya, … Continue reading→